Relative Position in Space
It's already been one of those God-awful weeks for Lestrade: paperwork and conferences and a flu epidemic reducing his staff to skeletal proportions, not to mention the bloody endless rain that's turned London into a gray foggy maze as the Thames slushes over its muddied banks. Thursday dawns just as cold and miserable as the rest, and when his phone rings at four in the morning, there's a split second when Lestrade seriously considers putting his head under his pillow and playing sick, DI duties or no.
But he is the DI, and he's been at this job too long to quit now, so he sits up and reaches for the phone with a hand that feels like lead. He takes the call, sits through Sally's hacking coughs with more weariness than actual patience. She gets to the words "another body" and he groans out loud before he can stop himself.
There's a telling pause at the other end of the line. "Sir?" she hazards, sounding uncertain.
"Nothing," he says with a sigh that comes from his bones somewhere. His bedroom is cold and fairly miserable, like one person isn't even living in it so much as staying. Suddenly the thought of being anywhere else, anywhere with people, is preferable, even at this time of day. "Good work calling, Sergeant. I'll be into the office in-" he glances out the window at the rain and shakes his head. "Give me an hour." He hangs up before she can respond.
The thing is, Lestrade is a bloody professional, and he hasn't gotten to where he is by being anything less than excellent at his job. He's no Sherlock Holmes (and thank God for that, the world couldn't deal with two of them), but he's good enough, most of the time. Still, it's a dark and rainy Thursday morning, he's had a terrible week, and these murders have been bothering him for weeks with no headway made at all. There's nothing that even says the deaths are related, except that they're all men in their twenties and thirties, and there's absolutely no reason for any of them to be found dead in back alleys in the pouring rain with no distinguishing marks. His gut says serial killer, but there's no evidence. Well—none that he can see.
He knows when something's too much, and so he doesn't even think about going into work before he stops by Baker Street. Because he may not be Sherlock Holmes, but he doesn't have to be as long as he knows where to go to rouse the mad amateur detective himself. Lestrade can't actually count the number of times he's done this now, ever since he first found Sherlock stoned out of his head in that dingy old flat on Montague Street. He wonders if the many returns make him dependent, or intelligent, or just hopeless. Probably a bit of all three, really.
It's just half four when he reaches the front step of 221B. He pauses there for a second, protected from the rain by the awning, and wonders whether to ring the bell. It's very early, and it seems a shame to wake Mrs. Hudson. He pulls out his phone instead and texts:
Bloody freezing out here.
If it's a little less to-the-point than he normally would be, he blames the hour. Sherlock doesn't need more than that anyway. Surprisingly there's no response, and he's starting to worry that Sherlock is actually asleep or something, but then the door opens abruptly to reveal John Watson, tired and gray and wrapped in a huge sweater that looks like it was knitted by a kind family member.
"Hullo," the doctor says with a wan, drained grin. He holds up a phone—Sherlock's, there's his text on the display—and ushers Lestrade inside, out of the rain. "Sorry about that." He doesn't explain why he has his flatmate's phone, or why he's clearly already awake at four thirty on a Thursday, and Lestrade is too weary to ask. "Lovely weather, isn't it?" John says wryly. Lestrade snorts in agreement, and they trudge up to the sitting room.
The contrast to his own flat is shocking. Not for the first time, Lestrade is impressed with the mess Sherlock manages to make of any space he inhabits for more than ten minutes, but Baker Street strikes him because there's method to the mess. John's handiwork can be easily seen in the cleared pathways between stacks of paper, and the way the coffee pot is burbling in the kitchen, making actual coffee instead of some terrifying experiment.
Sherlock is sprawled across the couch, feet on the armrest, cellphone in hand (that must be John's, what's the point of that?), texting away. He doesn't deign to acknowledge them, so Lestrade looks around a bit. The place is warm, almost cozy in the midst of the clutter. There are books and laptops open all over the place, like they're in the middle of a nice, quiet morning in. He feels like he's intruding, and that's never actually happened before when he's called on Sherlock, drugs busts aside.
"Cuppa?" John offers, already on the way to the kitchen.
Lestrade shakes out of his thoughts and says, "Yeah, thanks," before the words even register in his brain.
Sherlock stands abruptly and Lestrade turns to find him over at the window, looking out into the rain. The man's dressed already, or possibly he never bothered going to bed. He's also got that tense, oddly fragile sense about him that Lestrade easily translates into bored. Once upon a time not so long ago, that expression would have sent him looking through the flat for Sherlock's latest stash, but now it just makes him glad there's a case at hand.
He glances over and catches Lestrade's look, probably reads his thoughts in the slant of his eyebrow or something. But his lip twitches up at the corner, and in Holmes speak that's practically a welcoming smile. "Inspector. It must be so comforting to the people of England that an upstanding example of law enforcement can't even remember to tie his own shoes. No wonder you came to see me; a serial killer is clearly above your level this week, when you have all that important paperwork to muck through."
His tone is all familiar antagonism, which Lestrade ignores with the ease of long practice; he looks down at his shoes and sees that the left one is in fact untied. He reaches down to fix it while he starts in. "Look, I've got half my bloody staff out sick with the modern plague, and this killer's managed four-"
"Five," Sherlock interrupts with a deeply pitying glance.
Lestrade blinks and wonders why that kind of thing still surprises him. At least he's right about them being connected murders. "You helping or not?"
Sherlock heaves a sigh that would fit into a Victorian novel better than this sitting room, but Lestrade already knows his answer. "Naturally. I always have time to instruct London's best and blindest."
Lestrade opens his mouth to sass back, but he's distracted when John hands him a cup of coffee. "Thanks." The heat of the mug warms his fingers, still chilled from standing outside.
"That flu's been going around," John says sympathetically. "The clinic's been full to bursting with people who just need to go home and sleep it off."
"Right," Sherlock says briskly. "John, get the-"
John clears his throat significantly. Lestrade looks over in time to see Sherlock's expression shift into something like embarrassment. He glances down at his rumpled shirt and says, "Ah. Yes. I suppose there's time to change first." He whirls off towards his bedroom just like that, leaving an empty space where he'd been inhabiting the air a second before.
Lestrade realizes his eyebrows are raised and makes an effort to lower them. The room is much more still without Sherlock in it, leaving just him and John and the sound of rain outside. He blows across the surface and takes a long sip, grateful to be in one place for a minute.
"Thanks," he says again, lifting the cup in acknowledgment. He means thanks for other things too, like the fact that Sherlock is sober and alive and largely amendable this morning, but he's not about to voice those to anyone but himself.
John waves him off. "Best take your drinks where you can find them, with him." He opens the fridge and tenses. Lestrade watches with interest as his eyes close and he visibly counts backwards from ten. Then his eyes open and he very calmly shuts the door without adding anything to his coffee. He joins Lestrade standing by the couch instead. Lestrade finds himself amazed all over again that a man like this is living with Sherlock, and neither of them has killed the other yet.
They sip in silence for a moment before John notes, almost absently, "You know, I think there was actually a time in my life when hearing the words serial killer before the sun came up would have been unusual."
Lestrade huffs out a sympathetic laugh. He blames the quiet and John's comment when his thoughts actually make it into words and he says, "I wonder why you do it, on mornings like this. I'd be home in bed." It's not just this morning; he thinks fleetingly of that gutted-out pool and the smell of burnt explosives in the air, the look in John's eyes as they dragged Sherlock from the water.
"Would you?" John's gaze is steady, knowing in a way he must have picked up from Sherlock. Lestrade is surprised by the perception. They both know his answer, so he doesn't bother giving it.
Sherlock flies back into the room, scarf already on, coat flapping behind him like some huge over-dramatic bird. "Have you investigated the aunt of the second victim?"
"No," Lestrade says with as much sarcasm as he can muster. "Because I am completely incompetent when it comes to running routine background checks."
Sherlock's grin says exactly what he thinks of that. "Which means that you noticed her scooter, of course."
"Come on, Lestrade! Keep up!" and he's off and down the stairs, on the trail of six different leads that will probably make the entire force feel like total imbeciles by the end of the day. Lestrade leaves his half-empty cup on the table and follows three steps behind, leaving John to grab his coat and umbrella and lock the door behind them.
Still, it's an absolute piss-down outside, and it turns out that not even Sherlock Holmes can get much from a scene that's soaked in rainwater. The body is just like the others, only this one is outside a warehouse down by the water, like it'd been left to be washed away. Sherlock ignores the thought of an umbrella and dashes around the scene, getting himself soaked in the run-off from the tarps Donovan had pitched over the scene in hopes of preserving some evidence. He pokes and prods, and then spends a good half an hour investigating the siding of the nearest buildings for something only he would think to see.
Lestrade can tell it's not going well, because he doesn't even get a sarcastic comment when he asks for a progress update. Feeling equal parts vindicated and worried, Lestrade retreats back towards the warehouse, where most of his lot have huddled to avoid the worst of the rain. John is standing a little apart, under his umbrella, watching Sherlock like a telly program.
This killer's tricky—the repeat offenders always are—using the rain to his advantage to leave no clues for them to follow. No notes, no taunts, and that makes it seem deliberate, like there's a job being done here, and they just have to find out why.
Sally wanders over to him, looking miserable and small, huddled into her bright yellow slicker. "Freak's losing his touch," she sighs, but it holds less venom than it would have this time last year. She'd been at the pool too, seen—well, seen the little the rest of them had seen, really. They'd all softened a bit since then, mostly because John was rapidly becoming a favorite around the station. Even Sally, and by her influence Anderson, had been giving Sherlock a bit of breathing space out of some kind of grudging respect.
"Knew that prat wasn't omniscient," she mutters, and Lestrade is willing to admit that in some cases grudging is probably optimistic.
He opens his mouth to say something—what, he has no idea—but across the alley Sherlock suddenly straightens. Lestrade knows that posture: spine straight, head up, eyes looking out into the distance like he's actually seeing the facts strung out before him. It's like glimpsing pure inspiration, wrapped up in that ridiculous greatcoat standing in the rain. John's seen it too, even faster than Lestrade, and he's across the space and at Sherlock's side before Lestrade's managed to start moving. They hold a quick, low conversation that gets hidden by the rain, and by the time Lestrade makes it over, Sherlock is turning to dash away.
John pauses, just for a second, and looks back to offer Lestrade a wave. He half-returns it before he catches himself, and watches as the two of them disappear off into the mist, going who-knows-where.
It is roughly the thousandth time this has happened since he first met Sherlock six years ago, but it feels a bit like abandonment anyway. He turns back to the moment and starts getting the scene cleared so they can all get out of the rain.
They do their own work, running fresh background checks and sending out detectives to re-interview family members. The sixth (seventh, Sherlock insists) body appears at three in the afternoon, on the opposite end of town from the last one. The murders are escalating, and the world suddenly becomes a much darker, more anxious place. He goes out to the scene, but Sherlock is still off doing whatever it is he does, and it doesn't take long to catalog.
That night, Lestrade is staring at the photos, idly trying to figure out what Sherlock meant by that bloody scooter reference earlier, when his phone buzzes on the desk. He notes the time—ten thirty at night, when was the last time he ate?-as he flips the phone open to read a text from Sherlock.
Some news. Cuppa?
He stares at the words for a solid minute, trying to make them fit into what his brain has informed him for the last six years is reality. Then all at once he remembers that morning, and realizes that John must still have his flatmate's phone. Well, that means Sherlock's allowing Lestrade some access (and the thought makes him furious for a second, that he has to wait on this man's bloody arrogance).
But that means that Sherlock hasn't figured it out yet.
This is his way of checking in, his way of keeping Lestrade actually apprised of what's going on. The thought is astonishing (what happened that night that they'll never know about, that would have changed so much?) and propels him to text back with furious speed.
The reply pings back immediately, while Lestrade is reaching for his jacket.
Your treat. Genius took my wallet.
Lestrade takes a cab, because he's had enough of the rain. John's waiting for him at the entrance to the cafe, and they duck in and find a table in the back, where they can both keep an eye on the room. Lestrade waits until they've both ordered (meals and drinks, since it turns out John hasn't seen food in hours either). As he takes a long drink of his espresso, he realizes they'd started the day this way as well, what feels like a lifetime ago.
They're quiet for a few minutes, in a way that only two bone-deep tired men still too hyped up on unresolved adrenaline can be. It's much more peaceful than sitting at his desk in his office. Lestrade takes a deep breath and lets himself settle into the chair a little, and makes an effort to actually taste his coffee. John doesn't interrupt, and he's grateful for the sympathy.
"Right," he says when he's cleared his throat. "What's he found, then?"
John gives a long sigh of his own, and Lestrade thinks he looks almost gaunt in the halogen lighting, like half of himself is off sleeping somewhere. "It's the scooter."
Lestrade blinks again. "Yes," he says slowly, "he did mention that."
"This morning, right before we left."
"Typical. Well, it turns out all the victims bought vespas from the same dealership. Or test-drove them. Apparently."
He takes a moment to absorb that. "Alright," he says at last. "So?"
John raises his hands in a I don't know, I was just standing there way that Lestrade relates to. "He said the point is that they're all men. That's also important, apparently."
For a moment that makes no sense, no sense at all, until his brain kicks into gear and his thoughts lighten for a moment, running faster than they have all day. "It's someone that works at the bloody dealership! But why—oh, hell. It's a woman."
He realizes John's staring at him with the same expression most of the world reserves for Sherlock. It's an oddly nice experience. "That's why all the victims are men," he explains. "Businesses tell their reps to do that, you know, especially on the showroom floor. You match yourself to your best potential customer. And when a young man looking for a pretty toy comes in, the first sales rep he sees is-"
"A nice-looking woman with a big smile," John finishes with a nod. "All the victims must have been waited on by the same woman. Well, surely that narrows it down, doesn't it?"
"It does," he agrees. It means that all the victims have in common is that they were in the same place, possibly at the same time. But it's not enough, not nearly, and Sherlock knows it as well as him, which is why he's still off investigating, and why Lestrade isn't about to call his team back. "It still doesn't tell us the why, but at least it narrows down our suspect list, and that's a place to start. 'Scuse me while I make a call."
Sally sounds absolutely dead when he calls and tells her where to redirect their manpower.
"Go home," he tells her firmly, when they've finished.
"No buts. You've been working for four shifts. Go get some rest, come back when you're useful."
There's another pause, and he suddenly feels like they just had the same conversation, in reverse. But her voice is more grateful than annoyed when she says, "Thanks." He feels like he's done some good when he hangs up and returns to the table.
"What now then?" John asks him curiously.
He shrugs. "Now we wait until we turn something up, or until Sherlock beckons."
John watches him for a long moment, head tilted to the side, sizing him up. Lestrade lets him, more because he's too tired to protest. Finally, when the silence drags, he raises his eyebrows in silent question.
"Sorry. It's just...has he always been like this? I mean, running about like mad, tracking down clues like a bloodhound. Was he like this when you met him?"
Well, he'd almost been expecting that for months now, though not in these circumstances. Lestrade takes a good long moment to consider what to say and whether to say it, but...well. It's probably the tiredness talking, but he's sick of there being nothing to do, just now. And he has a few curiosities of his own. Besides, John's living with the man, he should know what he can.
"Alright," he says with something like a real grin. "One for one. I'll tell if you will."
John's mouth twitches into a smile and he signals the waiter for more coffee. "Right. Spill."
So he does. "It started with this kid named Carl Powers."
"Really?" John blinks in surprise. "How was that only six years ago? Sherlock said it was when he was just a kid."
Lestrade lets out an amused breath. "He's still just a kid, really. But it was closer to ten; I wasn't on the case, but I knew the guy who was. Everyone thought it was open-closed, and then all at once Sherlock's around and it all gets wrapped up except for a pair of shoes. Didn't think about it, until a few years later when I ran into him again in the middle of a bad case." John waves for him to continue, so he does. He talks about being baffled, and then amazed, and then angry. He talks about Montague Street and a drugs call from the neighbors. He talks, much more sparingly, about a couple weeks and months of intensive watching, of flushing down bags of coke and deliberately not writing reports until Sherlock beat some of the demons in his head long enough to choose the work over the highs.
He stops himself there, surprised at the way all of that came gushing out. They're well into their third coffees now and Lestrade reverts to his water, sipping thoughtfully. It's more than he would have said, if he'd thought about it, but on the other hand...well. He's never been able to talk about it, has he. He's never had someone to compare notes with on Sherlock, not who didn't work for him.
John's nodding slowly, looking down into the last dregs of coffee in his mug. "That...well. Thank you." He catches Lestrade's eyes and smiles gratefully. "That explains some things. Really."
He shakes his head a little and leans back. "Alright, your turn."
Lestrade smirks a little. There's a thousand questions he wants to ask, but he settles first for, "How in God's name did he convince you to share a flat?"
"Well, I was a bit desperate. You've read the blog. But I ran into an old friend right after I got back..."
It ends up turning into a kind of perverted Q and A, a venting session outside of work and carefully worded blogs and the all-seeing eyes of their subject. He wonders if this is why Sherlock's never left them alone before, or if this kind of disclosure ever even occurred to him.
Lestrade lets himself relax a little, knowing nothing'll get done on the investigation until tomorrow, but too hyped up to think about sleep. John seems just as keen, waiting on news from Sherlock, so they stay in the cafe and blatantly take advantage of the 24-hour service. And then all of a sudden it's three in the morning in the middle of a really terrible day, with a serial killer on the loose and the rain pouring down, and Lestrade finds himself still having coffee with John, piecing fragments of Sherlock Holmes into a kind of whole.
"Did he do those awful bloody mood swings, back then?"
"Oh, yes. Still, not as bad with you around, I think."
"Did you ever meet the brother? With the limo?"
"That was his-there's two of them?"
"You should have seen it, when Mrs. Hudson opened that fridge and saw-"
"Is that whole 'I don't feel' just a defense mechanism, do you think?"
It's relieving in a kind of fundamental way, to know that someone else understands, though admittedly John's got a different take on Sherlock that Lestrade wonders about, a little. There's a depth of devotion there that makes real friendship and respect, not just pity or morbid fascination. He manages an intimacy with Sherlock, and Lestrade is both amazed and worried. Still, it's a comfort, realizing that someone else is inhabiting more or less the same space he is, when it comes to Sherlock.
They're winding down, too tired to talk any more, when both of their phones go off. Lestrade reaches for his and looks right past John's name in the sender line to read:
Gold poisoning. Baker Street.
He and John share a befuddled look as they both try to sort that out. Their phones ping again:
Apologies. Grammar. Gold. Poisoning. Baker Street.
"Ah," John says with a nod. "Female serial killer poisoning people for money. Well, that's something to get on with, isn't it?" He stands with a groan and Lestrade follows; his back pops uncomfortably. "Share a cab?"
They do, and when they trudge into Baker Street at last, it's four thirty in the bloody morning, and Lestrade thinks this might have been the worst day on the planet to be book-ended by visits here.
But the flat is warm, and Mrs. Hudson left them tea, and Sherlock is hyperactive, high on the thrill of his own brilliance, pulling logic out of the apparent rain-soaked nothingness of seven crime scenes. He launches into his explanation, and it involves intrigue and sex and a fair bit of ingenious plotting by a young saleswoman, all of which will have to be officially proved by the force in a few hours. And as Lestrade sits there on the sofa, drink in hand, he thinks he understands just a little better than he did at this time yesterday.
He realizes he's grinning aimlessly only when Sherlock snaps, "Honestly, are you listening to a word I say?"
Lestrade can't help glancing over at John, because they talked about that voice, and then they're both laughing, helpless in the wake of utter tiredness and the hope of resolution for this case and the sheer ridiculousness of Sherlock Holmes, standing there with hands on hips, affronted at the stupidity of the universe.
There are mountains of work to be done, and the rain shows no signs of letting up, and a dangerous murderer still to catch.
Still. Even if he'll only admit it to himself, Lestrade is glad to be here, in this moment, with these two men. Right place, right time. It's enough, for now, and altogether better than where he'd been at this time yesterday.
Author's Note: I never last long when a new fandom starts devouring my brain, so it was only a matter of time before Benedict Cumberbach, Martin Freeman and Rupert Graves in the same show would spawn a character-related oneshot. This new BBC Sherlock is a lot of fun (even for Holmes purists like me), and I suspect more fic may be coming. As always, both your reading and your comments (for good or ill) are welcome. For another post TGG one-shot (this one from Mycroft's POV), check out "Gravitational Resonance". Cheers!